Dr. Elena Acquisto-Treaster was in school for her doctorate in chiropractic and her master’s degree in applied clinical nutrition when she received the news that everyone dreads to hear: she had thyroid cancer.
Suddenly, Treaster went from being the doctor to the patient, and she wasn’t sure where to turn.
“I was so frustrated,” Treaster recalled, adding that she was torn between treating the cancer with Western medicine, non-traditional practices or a mixture of both.
It was a frightening time for her, but with the help of skilled doctors and the support of family and friends, Treaster had her cancerous nodules removed, earned her degrees and is now in a better place.
On Tuesday, July 31 at 7 p.m., Treaster will give a presentation at the Hamburg Public Library on her experience with cancer, her current research on possible causes of thyroid cancer and what one can do to maintain good health.
“Since I grew up in Western New York, I was trying to look to see if there was a connection or environmental factors that may play a role (in developing thyroid cancer),” said Treaster.
Though she has not found a specific correlation to thyroid cancer and the region, she did discover a 2001 study that found people in the Western New York area who lived within a 15-mile radius of three bodies of water (the Buffalo River, the Niagara River and Eighteenmile Creek) had a higher rate of thyroid disease.
“What they found is that those bodies of water had similar contaminants in it, like PCBs,” said Treaster. “It didn’t specifically look at thyroid cancer but it got me thinking, maybe there is a connection to it, although nothing has been proven yet.”
Some of the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer are difficulty swallowing, a hoarse voice, feeling lumps or nodules in the neck, difficulty breathing, and pain in the neck that can spread to the ears, Treaster explained.
However, Treaster said that she experienced none of those symptoms. Her cancer was discovered only after she mentioned how unusually tired she was to her allergist one day, and her doctor had the keen sense to test her thyroid.
“I could still be walking around with a mass in my throat and not know it,” Treaster said, adding “That’s another point I really want to stress: I want to encourage people to have good communication with their doctors, and make sure they have trust.”
As a health care professional, Treaster said that her harrowing experience has made her a better doctor.
“I learned to listen,” she said. “Ninety-nine percent of the diagnosis is listening to your patients. They will tell you in their own words what is wrong.” Though Treaster learned this lesson in chiropractic school, she said she never understood it so well until now.
Now, Treaster revisits New York Chiropractic College, where she acts as a practice patient for students.
“They ask me questions and try to figure out what’s wrong with me,” she said. “I really throw them for a loop because the first thing I say is ‘I feel fine.’”
She said uses her example to teach the students to “think outside of the box.”
Treaster’s experience with thyroid cancer created a desire within in her to spread the word and teach others, something she never considered doing before. She hopes her presentation at the library will be the first of many.
Treaster said she is willing to tackle other topics in future presentations, such as type 2 diabetes or childhood obesity.
“I would love to do that,” she said.
Those who attend the July 31st presentation will also gain general information on ways to stay healthy.
“Not only will I present my story...but I also looked into Vitamin D,” she said, adding that it is very common for people in the Northeast to lack the vitamin.
Treaster said that to maintain good health, one should eat organic fruits and vegetables, limit sugar intake (“Cancer feeds on sugar,” she said.), and increase the intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
“Our society is very nutritionally deficient because of how we eat,” Treaster said.
Having recently moved back into the area, Treaster is looking into setting up a nutritional counseling practice in the Hamburg area.
For more information, email Treaster at email@example.com.